Music of the Valley: Frostiana at Williston

It has been a terrific year for the Choral Music program at Williston this year. This past fall, the Caterwaulers, Widdigers, Teller Chorus, and Middle School Chorus explored a program of choral music focusing on famous poets and their texts by a mélange of composers. This spring, the Upper School Choral Ensembles are continuing this exploration in poetry, but this time, focusing on one single poet and one single composer.

“Frostiana: Seven Country Songs” was written by American composer Randall Thompson in 1959. This choral/orchestral masterwork has held a seminal position in the choral/orchestral repertoire ever since its premier, and selected movements are performed frequently as stand-alone pieces.Frostiana It is written in seven movements, or sections, with each one utilizing a different text from the great American poet, Robert Frost (hence the title of the piece). Well-known poems such as “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “The Road Not Taken,” “The Pasture,” and “Come In” are just a few of the stunning texts featured in the work.

In non-musical years here at Williston, the Music Department has a long history of exploring music from the choral/orchestral repertoire. When I was considering last summer what this piece might be, there were several reasons Frostiana was the clear choice. First, Frostiana is scored for Male Chorus, Female Chorus, Mixed (Male and Female) Chorus, and orchestra. This was perfect for Williston, as we already had all three choruses in place. The second biggest reason was that Frostiana was commissioned by the town of Amherst, Massachusetts for its bicentennial in 1959. This is one of the reasons Thompson chose to set Frost’s text; Frost had lived in Amherst for a period of his life. Lastly, Frost’s poems are some of the most beloved across the world. However, Frost, as well as his estate since his death, rarely gave permission for his texts to be set to music. However, Frost had the utmost respect for Thompson, and therefore trusted him with his stunning words. Since the focus of the Choral Program this year has been on poetry, this was a great chance to focus on one of America’s most beloved poets.

The Williston String Ensemble, directed by Mr. Ben Demerath and coached by Mr. Scott Slapin, has been working with the students on their preparations for the piece. Joining these students to round out the orchestra will be area professional musicians and other Williston faculty members.

The students have been working extremely hard this trimester, not only learning the music, but also spending time digging into the texts, and how these poems relate to us today in the 21st century. It has been an amazing journey, that is sure to culminate in a great night of music on the Williston campus. The first half of the concert will feature the Middle School Chorus singing repertoire in other celebrated American styles, followed by new a cappella arrangements by the Caterwaulers and Widdigers, showcasing a more current sound in American vocal styles. I hope you will be able to join us for this very special performance of some of the best music America has to offer.

Frostiana: Seven Country Songs
May 19, 7:30 p.m.
Phillips Stevens Chapel
Joshua Harper, conductor

Featuring the Caterwaulers Male Concert Choir, Widdigers Female Concert Choir, Middle School Chorus, and the Williston String Ensemble.

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